Death of the teacher #change11

In his essay  (1967) Roland Barthes announces ‘The death of the author”: The meaning of a text is not dependent on the intentions or background of the author.
In experimental sciences the author is not important, the experiment is speaking for itself.
In a narrative discipline the narration should exist without the narrator.
This all brings me to a conclusion: the death of the teacher. The teacher is an author and a messenger sending texts. And when the author is dead, the teacher is also.
Is the text  the only remaining vehicle of education, be it words, bodily expressions, behavior or images, writing or digital messages. What does this imply to the role of the teacher?
In a MOOC, texts are the vehicles of meaning and learning and teaching.  The role of a teacher in a MOOC is just to deliver texts (or is it a tiny bit more?). In a MOOC this is clear, we do not know the teachers, we do not see them and they mostly disappear after some time from our screens. In schools this death of  the teacher is not clear, because the teacher is still there in front of us.

This ‘death of the teacher’ is in a way contrary to what people try to repair in education. In the Netherlands and other countries people try to restore the authority of the teacher. The ‘Finnish model’ is taken as argument for this restoration of teacher authority. Is restoring teacher authority an answer to educational problems? Is the teacher a kind of missionary?

When the text is important for teaching, learners must learn to recognize the value of a text. The value of a texts does not depend on the author. The value of a text is not dependent on how many people do trust the text.  Critical reading of texts could be the heart of education. The value and trustworthiness of a text lies in the network of texts (not persons) it belongs to. (Is experience and reality a sort of text?)

“.. How can I help being a humbug, he said  when all these people make me do things that everybody knows  can’t be done? … [wizard of Oz p.146]

Image: Luke and the Madonna, Altar of the Guild of St. Luke, Hermen Rode, Lübeck 1484. (Wikimedia) Luke is writing with inspiration of the dove and of Mary and the Child to enhance trustworthiness of his writings.



16 thoughts on “Death of the teacher #change11

  1. Well, of course there is a tiny difference. My mother telling met she loves me, or my pretty girlfriend telling me she loves me. That difference in text depends on the person of the author.

  2. Maybe MOOCs are a way of exploring one end of a spectrum of teacher authority to best measure the relationships between teacher authority, student responsibility and learning.

  3. Hallo Joe, Thanks for this answer. I have to be more precise. The teacher authority I am tinkling of is the authority of the person who knows and understands. I am not writing on the pedagogical authority of a teacher who is responsible for the well being and growth of his students.

  4. Most teachers would very much welcome shedding the role of the all-knowing OZ. Who wants to be responsible for people who will take no responsibility for themselves? A teacher who coaxes a student to learn and build a strategy for further learning on their own seems a poor candidate for authority. Power doesn’t share. A true teacher would probably would laugh (and cry) at their being designated as authority. But how do we escape the hunger of many people to believe authority exists? Who want authority to relieve themselves of thinking, deciding, being responsible or accountable? To be Munchkins in the safety of Emerald City under protecting watch of the great Wizard—even if it is a false safety.

    Never mind Barthes and his death of the author. Dorothy killed both the Wicked witches of West and East, freeing us all from the power of the past to hold us helpless. The first to fall in the new world set in motion was the Wizard himself. No longer dependent on the smoke and mirrors show of authority to hold onto power the dethroned wizard is himself freed of the weight of others expectations. Or at least that is how he sees it.

    His first act, sadly disappointing Dorothy, is to declare an inability to perform even the smallest of miracles. Without the infrastructure of power to scare or impress there is nothing to his bluster. Defaulting on his witch killing assignment, to be paid in hearts, courage and brains, the Wizard admits:

    “…but, now that you have melted her, I am ashamed to say that I cannot keep my promises.”
    “I think you are a very wicked man,” said Dorothy.
    “Oh, no, my dear,; I’m really a good man; but I’m a very bad wizard, I must admit.”
    “Can’t you give me brains?” asked the Scarecrow.
    “You don’t need them. You are learning every day. A baby has brains, but doesn’t know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”
    “That may all be true,” said the Scarecrow, “but I shall be very unhappy unless you give me brains.”
    The false wizard looked at him carefully.
    “Well,” he said, with a sigh, “I’m not much of a magician, as I said; but if you will come to me to-morrow morning, I will stuff your head with brains. I cannot tell you how to use them, however; you must find that out for yourself.”

    Finding out for yourself seems to be what MOOCs are about. Surely it isn’t a wholly independent process though? Some of the finding out must involve seeking the assistance of others? Teachers even and it would be a sad day in Emerald City if the teachers get tossed out with the Wizards.


  5. Scott, good show. Baum did a good job in writing this educational philosophical story of OZ.
    What remains are teachers trying to persuade (motivate) students to do the right things, and grow to be fine adults.

  6. Hate to see us fall into the trap of blaming the failings of education on individual people. The rules were the problem–the insistence that childhood should be an orderly process. Crazy idea. Of course rules enabled me to spend many hours in the principal’s office discussing life and its many potential misdemeanors. Much like a MOOC there was more there than a kid could ever hope to sample so sometimes we strayed into the story of the imaginary exemplary child who never looked behind the curtain to discover the Wizard.

    There are so many opportunities to learn and teach. Even the “authorities” I encountered as a kid were teachers. How can we replace them with “network properties”, nodes or other abstractions that seem popular these days? How can a software program set to “Principal” and loaded with the goal of administering “punishment” reconfigure itself to “empathy” without being sent out for repairs?


  7. Scott, This is a big problem and it hurts a lot of people. I do not want to dive in these problems with teaching, education and schooling. THis is a bunch of complicated (or complex) problems with different causes. It is about parents, children, economics, politics and change in culture and other yet unknown factors.
    My attention is in this direction: Why you need to be careful and evaluate what you read. My concern is about knowledge and learning to be critical on knowledge.

  8. Jaap you say: The meaning of a text is not dependent on the intentions or background of the author. In experimental sciences the author is not important, the experiment is speaking for itself. In a narrative discipline the narration should exist without the narrator. This all brings me to a conclusion: the death of the teacher. I’m not sure if you really believe this, but at any rate, I do think it is an overstatement, certainly on Barthes’ part, mostly in reaction to discovering that meaning is not created solely in the minds of authors, or researchers, or teachers. Rather, as Downes has noted often, meaning is found in the connections created among the various, not always explicit, nodes of a network.

    This does not mean, however, that an author is no longer necessary; rather, it is the recognition that an author, while necessary, is no longer sufficient to explain the meaning of a text—just as a text is necessary, but no longer sufficient to explain its own meaning. The meaning of a given text emerges from the dynamic interplay and interactions of writer, readers, subject matter, text, genre, other texts, etc. All are necessary, and none are sufficient alone to explain the meaning of any text or any lecture. To my mind, this idea of meaning in the connections, or meaning in the network, is similar to what we know about meaning in the mind: a function of complex networks of neurons, all firing in interplay with each other. No one neuron contains the meaning, or the thought, but each neuron is necessary for the meaning to emerge.

    So you are correct that the meaning of any given MOOC does not depend solely on Siemens, Downes, or Cormier, but the meaning of any given MOOC would be different without them. Similarly, the classes I teach would have a different meaning if I were not in them, just as they would create different meanings if a particular group of students were not in them. We are all necessary for meaning to emerge, but none of us are sufficient alone.

  9. Keith Thank you for this lucid comment.
    Also commenting on a blogpost is kind of keeping contact with the author. And making the post better.
    thanks again

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